Real Life

Alive and Kicking: Survivors’ stories

'A brain tumour saved my life'

With almost half his body burned in a horrific welding accident, dad-of-two Gavin Jamieson faced a life or death struggle to survive. So doctors were completely baffled when the Picton man not only pulled through quickly, but had skin grafts that healed in record time. The secret source of Gavin’s near-miraculous healing power was totally unexpected and tragically bittersweet – a life-threatening brain tumour.

“It definitely helped. My doctor said I had four times the healing ability that anybody else had,” says Gavin (41), who had burns to 44% of his body. “I was walking after five weeks, when it would normally take 12 weeks after injuries like that.”

Gavin was welding his boat trailer at a marina in Picton when a spark ignited an old fuel tank that had been filled with water. The tiny amount of fuel left in it exploded into a massive fireball that engulfed Gavin.”All I heard was this big boom and wondered what it was. Then I realised I was on fire,” he says.

In a panic, Gavin forgot to drop and roll on the ground and began running instead. His brother oalcolm, who had been helping him with the trailer, ran after him with a fire extinguisher and managed to douse the flames.By that time, Gavin had third degree burns to his legs and arms and needed urgent medical care. His distraught wife Sheriee (34) went with him in the Westpac Rescue Helicopter for the flight to Hutt Hospital, where he was told to expect at least 12 weeks of treatment.

When he was released from hospital after just five weeks, doctors were baffled. The reason for his swift recovery, however, was buried deep in his skull – a 20cm pituitary gland tumour releasing massive amounts of growth hormone.The growth hormone made his injuries heal much faster than normal, but also caused his hands and feet to grow and his face to change shape.

The tumour was only discovered when Gavin broke his wrist and x-rays revealed his abnormally large bones.Left untreated, the life-saving tumour, which caused his forehead and upper jaw to grow disproportionately large, would have killed him before he reached the age of 50. Thankfully, doctors operated to remove it.Eight years on, Gavin, who is dad to Corban (4) and Emily (4 months), says he’ll never be exactly his old self again but he’s as good as he can be after two scary brushes with death.

“oy forehead remains large, but my burn scars have faded,” he says. “At first, the scars were really noticeable, but now I can wear shorts and go swimming and a lot of people don’t see anything. I’m just grateful to be alive.”

Related stories